"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Friday, 29 July 2016

A Visit to the Beautiful Dower House Gardens at Morville

Regular readers may remember how much I loved this book - "The Morville Hours" by Katherine Swift - which I read earlier this year. It is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read so I was delighted to discover the gardens were close to Bridgnorth - not that far away and were open to the public on selected days!

I was hoping to visit in June to see the roses at their best but the gardens are only open on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons and so for various reasons (holiday, other day's out, birthdays, weather (too hot or too wet!) ) Wednesday this week was our first opportunity to visit.

The Dower House Garden illustrates the history of Morville Hall and the people who have lived in the location from ancient times up until the present day. Dr Katherine Swift who has written The Morville Hours (2008) and The Morville Year (2011) took over the tenancy of the Dower House and adjoining field in 1988 and started to create the garden. Her first task was to plant the yew hedges which are now 2.5 metres tall. The contrast between the wild and formal areas are one of the main features of the garden. There are many wild areas in the garden and the concept of the garden as a haven for wildlife as well as people is a feature of 21st century gardening. Many plants are allowed to self-seed even in the more formal parts of the garden creating a sustainable environment where wild and cultivated flowers mix.

Morville Hall - the Dower House juts out to the right of the main hall.

One of the Gatehouses

The hall of the Dower House was full of hundreds and hundreds of books :) The nodding purple clematis, seen round the door, was introduced into England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The Tudor Knot Garden represents the period 1560. The site of the present garden and surrounding buildings and land was occupied by a Benedictine Priory for 600 years. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries the land was bought by a Roger Smyth - a merchant from nearby Bridgnorth - who started the building of Morville Hall. Knot refers to an interlacing pattern of low hedges originally laid with sweet smelling herbs eventually replaced by box. Current planting includes Lavender, Germander, Strawberries and Sage. The clipped trees in pots are Seville Oranges which overwinter inside the Dower House.

The Plat and Boarded Beds (represent c. 1650). This area commemorates John Smyth who was killed at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. His death marked the end of the Smyth family's tenure of the Hall and it passed into the hands of the Weaver family. The design and planting of this garden are based on a 1659 Garden Book by Sir Thomas Hanmer.

The Canal Garden (c1710) - the design of the garden comes from the "Theory and Practice of Gardening" by John James published in 1712. John Weaver inherited the Hall in 1710 and he may well have read this book. The book contains designs for parterres and the style promoted in the book also contained clipped evergreens and water features (canals, fountains etc.). The narrow plates-bandes around the garden were the forerunners of today's flower borders.

The Turf Maze which is a unicorsal maze (these preceded mirror mazes) uses a design which dates back to the Bronze Age. You arrive at the centre (and yes I did walk round the maze) by following a single path and, therefore, there is no need to conceal the pattern or path with high hedges. Mazes have always been associated with ritual and mazes of all types have undergone a revival in the late 20th century. The maze lies at the centre of the garden and represents the oldest and most modern part of the design.

Other parts of the garden connect via the maze - here you can see an entrance to the Fruit and Vegetable Garden.

The New Flower Garden (c1780)

Arthur Blayney was Arthur Weaver III's cousin and he inherited the Hall in 1762. He didn't marry but did extend the Hall to accommodate his many guests and we can imagine him redesigning the garden to delight his friends and family. The layout of this garden is based on the "Elysee" garden at Nuneham Courtney in Oxfordshire which was designed by the Reverend William Mason in the 1770's. It was a secret garden surrounded by tall trees and shrubs with winding pathways and a Roman Temple planted in a naturalistic way. The Temple at Morville is dedicated to the Hours, the classical goddess of the Seasons.

The Cloister Garden (c1450)

In the 15th century the area within the Priory cloister would have been an open area used for recreation or, if close to the Infirmary, may have grown medicinal herbs and possibly vegetables and plants used to create dyes. In late summer patches of short turf once enamelled with tiny flowers are allowed to grow into mini meadows in the 21st century style.

The Alliums were attracting many bees.

The Wild Garden (representing the nineteenth century) is dedicated to Juliana Warren - the fifth of Joseph Loxdale's seven daughters (none of them married). They remained at Morville Hall after their parents died with the house and garden gradually declining. Juliana was the last to die in 1928. The garden also commemorates the Pleiades (or the Seven Sisters constellation) that can be seen from the garden at night and also the Nine Muses (the beehives in this garden are named after them). This garden is divided into 3 areas - a nuttery with hazels, sweet chestnuts and walnuts carpeted in Spring with flowers; a collection of wild roses originating from all around the world and the central part contains herbaceous plants from Caucasus, Japan and America and native English wild flowers. It is based on ideas by William Robinson (a contemporary of Gertrude Jekyll). Other wild areas of the garden include the Lammas Meadow and Little Spinney.

The stone mask is a Roman river god.

"The Mound"

The Formal Fruit and Vegetable Garden (early 20th century). After the death of Juliana Warren the Hall was put up for sale but, due to the Great Depression, it failed to attract any buyers . Eventually it was bought by Harry Bayliss who owned a chain of Midlands cinemas. He saved the house from demolition and this garden is dedicated to him. Planting inspiration here comes from the ideas of Gertrude Jekyll and the garden contains apple and pear walkways, many roses, old cottage garden flowers, clematis and agapanthus, soft fruit and vegetables and in Spring pots of tulips.

Finally, we arrived back at the Knot Garden. I can't begin to explain what a joy it was to be able to wander round this stunning garden after reading the book. There was something delightful to see round every corner.

The visit wouldn't have been complete without a Cream Tea in the Ivy Garden - the scones are baked by Katherine herself and were fresh from the oven and totally delicious :)

We had damson jam with our scones and, as it is my favourite jam, I did buy a jar to bring home. Sadly, B was with me so I didn't like to buy the second Morville book but it will be finding itself on it's way to my Kindle within a day or so!! I can't wait to read it (I gather there is another book in the pipeline too :) ) and I hope we can return - perhaps next Spring to see the tulips.

The Church of St Gregory where we parked. As we arrived the church clock was chiming and those of you who have read the book will know these chimes and the church are often mentioned by the author. I did have a quick look round before leaving but I will write about the church in my next post as, as usual, I have already uploaded far too many photos!

Reference: Information Boards around the Garden


Wendy said...

A lovely and informative post - you've certainly sparked my interest in these books and I really will have to investigate them further. There's obviously so much to see and learn about here - with a lot of history. I would have to walk around the maze, too and the Tudor knot garden - I do love these. I also love the sound of the planting for wildlife and the mini meadows.

Ragged Robin said...

Wendy - Thanks so much. I do hope you decide to buy the book and enjoy it as much as I did. The garden was just superb and it was so good to see all the wild areas and insects galore :) A really beautiful spot and we were fortunate enough to meet the author too - as well as making the scones she helps serve the cream teas :) I would have loved to have a good look at her book collection too :)

Rosie said...

I have such happy memories of our visit to the gardens a few years ago and it is good to see that they are still as I remember them even down to the books spied through the open front door and the author baking the scones and serving teas. I thought Morville and the church infact the whole area too had such a peaceful, timeless quality about it and it looks and sounds from your photos and words as if it still does:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rosie - Thanks so much - I am so glad the post brought back happy memories for you. Yes, you are right the whole area is exceedingly peaceful and timeless. Everything was just as I imagined it would be and I felt so "at home" there - I am sure you felt the same. Looking forward now to reliving it all by reading The Morville Year :) Wish I lived closer as I would be visiting all the time!! :)

Millymollymandy said...

What an incredible garden! I like the idea of having different styles of garden representing different eras and people linked to the house. The last garden sounds just my thing - fruit, veg and flowers. The cream tea looks very inviting too. A lovely visit! :-)

Ragged Robin said...

Millymollymandy - Thanks very much Mandy - it is a superb idea and I just loved the garden design and everything about it. Such a great garden for wildlife too and the cream tea was lovely. I certainly plan to return next year :)

Pete Duxon said...

looks a lovely garden! one I've never been to... did someone say scones?

Ragged Robin said...

Pete Duxon - Thanks Pete - well worth visiting if you holiday in the area. But only open Wednesday and Sunday afternoons and not all year so check before you go. Scones are delicious :)

Knowing how you love books the book is superb if you haven't read it :)

CherryPie said...

Thank you for your wonderful series of photos, allowing me a virtual visit that has long been on my list of 'gardens to visit'. I live so near but have never quite made it.

I loved Catherine's book, the Morville Hours and also her subsequent book, The Morville Year.

Very inspiring :-)

Ragged Robin said...

CherryPie - Thanks so much for leaving a comment and I am so pleased you enjoyed the post.

I do hope you can visit soon - it really is a beautiful garden and a visit there is extra special if you have read her book(s). She serves very delicious cream teas too :) Do google the gardens though to check opening hours as they are only open Wednesday and Sunday pm for about 8 months of the year.

I've just started The Morville Year which I am really enjoying - I think she has another book in the pipeline too :)

Toffeeapple said...

A lovely comprehensive post again RR, thank you so much. I should love to see the gardens but I might just have to 'make do' with the books...

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Thanks so much for your very kind comments. We are so fortunate that the gardens aren't that far from here - I couldn't believe it when I found that they were open to the public too. The books are a total delight.

Countryside Tales said...

What a fabulous place. I shall look up the books now :-)

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - Thanks CT - yes superb place. Books brilliant too (or so I thought :) )